Zebina Rawson – Shipwright in Buffalo? A Puzzle

Here’s a question:  Why did a Boston shipwright die in Western New York?

This will be of interest to the Lindsey / Rawson side of our family.

Zebina Rawson (1724 – 1826) is my 4th Great Grandfather.

I found an image of the marriage record for Zebina Rawson and Elizabeth Waters, October 1, 1806.  This was a trigger that caused me to look again at Zebina and wonder again why a Shipwright (carpenter) from Boston, would move to Buffalo NY, where he died.

Here’s a clip of their marriage record from September 1806:

Zebina Rawson and Elizabeth Waters Marriage Record
Zebina was born January 8 1784 in Mendon, Massachussets.  He worked in Boston as a “Housewright” and “Shipwright” until at least 1813, which is the last Boston City Directory listing I have for him.  He was, therefore, a carpenter who sometimes worked on houses, but was later listed as a shipwright, with a business on “Rowe’s Warf” in 1810 and “Sargent’s Warf” in the 1813 Boston City Directory.

Zebina died in Buffalo New York in 1826, and I’ve often wondered why a Shipwright from Boston would move to Buffalo . . . now I have a theory.  If you’re interested, please read on . . .

Zebina’s 3rd child and my 3rd Great Grandfather Henry P Rawson was born in Mendon, Massachusetts, October 31 1813.  The next child, Martha, was born on July 19, 1817 in Pierpont, Ashtabula, Ohio.  Ashtabula County Ohio is right next to Erie County, Pennsylvania.  Ashtabula, Erie and Buffalo are all along the South shore of Lake Erie . . . not so far apart.

So at some point after 1813 and before 1817, the family moved to Ohio.  Interestingly, the Erie Canal was started in 1817, but not completed until 1825.  So he did not travel from Boston to Buffalo (and on to Ohio) on the Erie Canal . . . which would have made the trip substantially easier. There were no railroads . . .

Also interesting . . . in 1813 there was a crash program to build a fleet of U.S. warships (wooden sailing vessels) to fight the war of 1812 in the Great Lakes.  Oliver Hazzard Perry would command the fleet.  He arrived in Erie Pennsylvania in February 1813 and work was started on the warships.  On September 10, 1813, he set sail and defeated the British.  Between February and September, the U.S. Navy spent $2.5 Million on these ships.  Over 150 carpenters (shipwrights) were brought to Erie.

There’s a great article on the construction of that fleet of 9 ships, totaling 940 tons with 54 guns built in about 6 months, here:

Zebina’s 3rd child, his son Henry P Rawson, my 3rd Great Grandfather, was born on October 31, 1813. in Mendon, Massachussets, the town where Zebina was born.  Mendon is 40 miles West of Boston, no place for a Shipwright.

So . . . here’s my theory:

Zebina Rawson was working as a Shipwright (carpenter) in Boston in 1812 and early 1813.  He was then recruited to work on the construction of Perry’s “Fleet in the Wilderness” that defeated the British on September 10, 1813.  The fleet was built in Erie, Pennsylvania, just 30 miles from Pierpont Ohio, where Zebina settled.

I suppose that Perry sailed his fleet to battle shortly after it was finished and provisioned. Elizabeth would have been pregnant with Henry 9 months before Henry’s birth on October 31, 1813.  Therefore I guess she would have known she was pregnant in March 1813..  I think that probably she went to live with Zebina’s parents in Mendon, while Zebina traveled to Erie Pennsylvania to work on Perry’s fleet.  Henry would have been born in his grandparent’s house in Mendon.

I surmise that Zebina stayed on Lake Erie, working on ships in the Erie to Buffalo area.  It’s 100 miles from Buffalo to Erie, and an additional 35 miles to Pierpont, where my 3rd Great Aunt Martha was born in 1817.  There were sailing ships and by 1818, steamships, being constructed on Lake Erie and especially in Buffalo.  So Zebina must have sent for Elizabeth not later than 1816 . . . I’d guess that she came west during 1814 or 1815.

In 1818, the first American Steamboat on Lake Erie was launched. It was named “Walk-in-the-Water” Walk-in-the-Water was built in Black Rock Harbor, New York, near Buffalo. In fact now it’s within the city limits of Buffalo only about 4 miles from the center of the city. Could Zebina have worked on that boat?
Also in 1818, the town of Pierpont was formed and the first Justice of the Peace there was Zebina Rawson.

In 1826, at the age of 46, Zebina died in Buffalo New York.  His family was later in Pierpont Ohio and then Indiana . . . I guess he was working in Buffalo. I don’t have a specific cause of death, however Cholera was a problem in that era.  There was an epidemic of Cholera in Buffalo in 1815 and a Pandemic, with a great number of deaths in the area, in 1832.

I’m obviously very interested in this, so I’ll keep working on it.  New documents are scanned and available on the web all the time . . .

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